I recently had the pleasure of being given a tour of downtown Scranton by Mayor Chris Doherty. Here are some thoughts and observations from my experience.
Mayor Doherty is a very down-to-earth person. I was impressed by his friendliness towards the residents of Scranton and his commitment to the city. We were joined by developer Charlie Jefferson. Charlie developed the Connell Building and is working on some other projects in Scranton. I will be writing a separate article about Charlie and his projects. These two gentlemen made my trip enjoyable and highly productive!
Mayor Doherty gave me some basic information, before we left the office, about what has gone on in Scranton during the ten years he has been mayor. When Mayor Doherty took office there were 22 empty buildings in downtown Scranton. Scranton had hit a low point. He decided his focus as mayor would be finances, the parks system and the downtown. Former Governor Ed Rendell gave Scranton $140 million during the eight years he was in office. It has certainly been put to good use.
One thing which pleasantly surprised me is the walkability of the downtown, for a mid-sized city. The nice grid pattern of the streets, good signage and cleanliness were huge pluses. I felt completely safe. Scranton has a low crime rate for a mid-sized city. As we walked and talked it became readily apparent that Scranton has turned the corner.
There are plentiful and diverse restaurants in the downtown which include things like Thai, Lebanese and Vegan. A high-end steak house is also under construction downtown. It will be along the lines of Morton’s or Ruth Chris. We walked through the construction area that is being framed-out. The influx of new center city residents, the Commonwealth Medical College, the University of Scranton, two courthouses, a municipal building, Steamtown Mall and new companies setting up headquarters downtown have swelled the demand for goods and services. There is substantial foot traffic downtown, a key ingredient to redevelopment.
Mayor Doherty has built three new parking garages and rehabilitated one to make sure adequate parking is available for downtown visitors, shoppers and workers. Lack of parking had been an issue that kept people from coming downtown.
Several companies have relocated or grown their businesses downtown. An old Woolworth’s store is now home to Morgan Stanley Smith Barney & Fax Serve, which combined employ 200 people. A high-end salon opened downtown that has grown to 80 employees.
Downtown Scranton has a Hilton Hotel and a Radisson Hotel. The Radisson is the former Lackawanna Railroad Station. Talk about an adaptive reuse success story! We went inside so the mayor could show me around. It is fantastic! Both hotels are large and well-kept. I asked Mayor Doherty what the occupancy rate averaged and he said “85%”. Scranton hosts many events, conferences and meetings which help keep the hotels full and visitors coming into Scranton. The mayor made a good point by saying people visit Scranton, leave impressed and spread the word!
The University of Scranton is located downtown and home to 7,000 students. The university is growing by leaps and bounds. Currently there are two enormous construction projects taking place that total more than $100 million. The university is also considering the establishment of a law school which would be another huge economic boost for Scranton. The University of Scranton is a key partner, along with the city, in transforming the downtown.
Commonwealth Medical College is building a campus downtown. This is Pennsylvania’s first medical school to be built in 50 years. The school is now leasing space and is in their second year of operation. In September, the student body will move into the school’s new permanent downtown site. The medical school will be responsible for bringing 800 new jobs and 600 students into downtown Scranton. Six hundred new apartments/condos will be needed in the next five years as a result. (If the law school becomes a reality; housing demand will sharply increase above the current projection for 600 units, fueling further economic development downtown.)
During our tour, we walked past the building used as the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company headquarters in NBC’s hit mockumentary, The Office. Scranton was on the list of possible locations being considered. When it was discovered the bar across the street from the building was named The Office, Greg Daniels decided it was perfect. The Office has brought a great deal of free publicity to Scranton and has increased tourism. There are monthly tours offered (March through December) and conventions, for fans of The Office, that bring many people to Scranton.
There is more to come in Part II on Thursday